Political Education Workshops Have Heart and SOUL

By Serena Zets – 10th Grade, Pittsburgh CAPA

Hellen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

This power of collaboration was in full display last week at the Hill House for the SOUL Political Education workshops. SOUL, which stands for “School of Unity and Liberation” operates out of Oakland, California and travels around the country to host political education training and workshops. Pittsburgh is one of their regular stops because they always see a huge interest from local teens who want to make a change in their communities. From August 12-14, teen representatives from Amachi Pittsburgh, Hill House Consensus Group, Women and Girls Foundation, Pittsburgh Student Activist Coalition, Dreams of Hope New Voices Pittsburgh, and even more advocacy groups came together to discuss how social justice topics impact local teens, as well as the world’s youth as a whole.

Each day of the workshops focused on a different topic. On the first day, participants discussed issues relating to sexuality and gender, from preferred gender pronouns to the plight of white feminists. Although some of the participants were unfamiliar with the concepts, they were willing to listen and learn.

On the second day, the participants learned about capitalism and economic justice by participating in interactive scenarios that explored how capitalism affects our daily lives. When asked to envision a world without capitalistic values such as wage exploitation and a higher minimum wage, the teens found it hard to imagine. One participant, Isaac, drew a picture of a McDonald’s worker with a Macy’s bag in his hand as he walked downtown amidst business-people in suits. Others pictured a world without constant conflict over money. All of the teens imagined going into careers that they’re passionate about rather than ones that will earn more money. It was jarring to actually imagine a world without these little things that we accept as the norm. When people go about change they usually think about the immediate results, rather than the long term. Thus, it was encouraging to see people, especially teens, working together to see the bigger picture.

On the third day, which was arguably the most anticipated, participants discussed issues surrounding race in the U.S. Since many of the organizations participating in the workshop work on racial issues, everyone brought together their experience and knowledge. The group also felt more comfortable with sharing their personal experiences after spending three days together. I would share some stories, but the group’s number one rule were the Vegas rules aka “What happens here stays here, but what’s learned here leaves here.” This day in particular was eye opening to me because being biracial, it can be hard to find a comfortable place in the discussion concerning race. But at SOUL, my input and experiences were valued and appreciated by everyone. For once, I didn’t feel like an outsider with no room to speak. Instead I felt like an relevant person with something to say. These three days made me feel more empowered than ever.

Throughout the three days of the SOUL Political Education workshops, every participant went into the series looking to listen and learn, and every participant left knowing more about the social issues that make up our everyday world. That in itself made it worth attending. In addition, the participants networked and made new friends. Many of the participants knew each other from school or rallies around the city, but others met for the first time.

Having completed the SOUL Political Education workshops, I encourage everyone interested in social justice to attend. Social justice is important to all teens, because if we don’t do something now, who will? We can’t expect the world to change without our help. We need to live by Helen Keller’s words and come together as a force to be reckoned with. We all have a voice and we all have a message, together we can create a symphony that demands to be heard.

Serena ZetsSerena Zets is a sophomore at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School. At CAPA, her discipline is literary arts where she received the opportunity to take part in an introductory journalism course. She is a resident of Squirrel Hill where she bakes, reads, and most importantly sleeps.

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